The Boston Globe | Abuse in the Catholic Church


In reversal, judge reinstates child rape charges against Geoghan

By Kathleen Burge, Globe Staff, 8/30/2002

Reversing a decision she made nearly six months ago, a judge yesterday reinstated the two most serious criminal charges against alleged serial pedophile John J. Geoghan, the defrocked priest whose case sparked the nation's clergy sexual abuse scandal.

Suffolk Superior Court Judge Margaret Hinkle handed down her highly unusual order yesterday, reinstating two charges of child rape against Geoghan, who has begun serving a six-year prison sentence for fondling a boy in a public swimming pool a decade ago. A child rape conviction carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.

Hinkle is scheduled to meet with prosecutors and Geoghan's lawyer next Thursday, when they will probably discuss how to proceed with the reinstated charges. Although Hinkle's decision was posted on a computer docket, her full ruling was not available yesterday.

Prosecutors declined to discuss the rulings. Geoghan's lawyer, Geoffrey Packard, was notified of the ruling yesterday.

''Obviously I'm very disappointed,'' he said. ''I think [Hinkle's] first decision was well reasoned and thoroughly researched and seemed to come out in the right place.''

Packard, who had not yet reached Geoghan last night, said he would appeal Hinkle's ruling.

''Hopefully in the future, someone will get some direction from the courts as to how to handle these things,'' Packard said.

The passage of time had muddied the details of the case and raised complex questions about how to calculate when the statute of limitations begins running.

The charges date to the early 1980s, when Geoghan allegedly fondled and orally raped a boy who was between 7 and 10 years old. The alleged victim first reported the abuse to his mother in 1986, and the report eventually landed in the Suffolk district attorney's office.

The alleged victim's mother testified earlier this year that she thought her son was too fragile to press criminal charges against Geoghan in 1986, and the case was closed. It was reopened in 1989, but the mother still declined to press charges. After the case was reopened again, Geoghan was indicted in December 1999 on two charges of rape of a child.

Hinkle's decision to dismiss the two charges against Geoghan was based on her parsing of the state's statute of limitations.

Assistant District Attorney David Deakin had argued that although the alleged victim first reported in 1986 that Geoghan had fondled him, he hadn't reported until 1989 that the priest had also raped him.

And since Geoghan was indicted on rape charges, not fondling, the 10-year statute of limitations didn't begin running until 1989, he argued. That meant that when the Legislature extended the statute for child rape cases to 15 years in 1996, it applied to the Geoghan case, giving prosecutors until 2004 to indict him, he argued.

But in March, Hinkle ruled that prosecutors waited too long - three years after the statute of limitations expired, she decided - to indict Geoghan. She also found that because the alleged victim contradicted prosecutors and his mother about what he had disclosed to authorities and when, prosecutors could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that they had indicted Geoghan in time.

In May, prosecutors urged Hinkle to reconsider her decision, arguing that the alleged victim was too young to remember some events correctly.

The statute of limitations is designed to protect defendants against cases filed after so much time has passed that it is difficult to ascertain the facts. In Massachusetts, the statute of limitations on child rape now expires 15 years after the alleged victim either turns 16 or reports the allegations to a law enforcement agency, whichever comes first.

While reinstating the rape charges against Geoghan in one case, Hinkle yesterday issued a ruling that weakens a separate case against him.

Hinkle rejected prosecutors' request to bring in 22 other alleged victims to testify about Geoghan's pattern of abusing young boys. Deakin argued that the other accusers would show jurors that Geoghan followed a pattern as he abused children between the early 1960s and the mid-1990s.

In that case, Geoghan is charged with two counts of indecent assault and battery on a child; each count carries a maximum sentence of 10 years. Prosecutors say Geoghan fondled a Weymouth boy in 1995 and 1996 as the priest drove the boy, now 17, around downtown Boston.

Prosecutors also say Geoghan molested the boy in 1993 in Readville, at the christening of the alleged victim's baby sister. Geoghan had invited the boy to serve as an altar boy, prosecutors say, and fondled the boy as he was changing in the sacristy.

While not permitting other alleged victims to testify, Hinkle said she would allow testimony about Geoghan's alleged abuse of the boy that took place outside of Suffolk County.

That trial, originally scheduled to begin Oct. 15, will probably be delayed. Packard has been invited to visit Siberia with other Massachusetts lawyers and judges during that week.

Kathleen Burge can be reached at

This story ran on page A26 of the Boston Globe on 8/30/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.

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